The Coming Rebirth of Email Marketing

Email marketing has been taking a pounding. There has been so much abuse of email by spammers that the entire medium is right now in the pits. End users are increasingly avoiding email, because they don't want to wade through an endless stream of spam. Similarly, they're afraid to give their email addresses to legitimate companies, because they fear that those companies will sell their addresses to someone else. The federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 was designed to stop spammers, but its only notable effect was to frighten legitimate email marketers into avoiding email altogether. It certainly hasn't dented the volume of spam. As a result, the world is looking for a better solution, and this time it won't be a legislative one. The solution to the spam problem will likely emerge as the puzzle solution that's currently being promoted by Microsoft and is now widely discussed by the major ISPs (Yahoo, AOL, MSN). This puzzle solution requires all outbound email to undergo 10 seconds of intensive calculations to be stamped. Mailers are essentially paying for each email in terms of CPU cycles, not pennies, but the result is the same: a near-instant wiping out of spam, since spammers can afford to spend even 10 seconds of CPU time per email--the economics just don't make sense for them. If this solution is successfully implemented by the major ISPs, the rest of the world will quickly comply, since virtually everyone sends at least some email to Yahoo, AOL, or MSN. In this way the puzzle solution approach to stopping spam could quickly become standard, and spam could vanish almost overnight. Although the timetable on this scenario is uncertain, implementation of this puzzle solution seems likely, based on current industry dynamics. There is a strong economic incentive for ISPs to adopt it, for one thing, since they spend millions of dollars each year dealing with the flood of spam. When the puzzle solution rolls out the whole world is suddenly going to wake up to something they haven't seen in years: empty email boxes. The spam will have stopped, and spam filters are no longer needed. It is here that email marketing will experience a rebirth of interest. But this time around, email marketing really means one-to-one marketing, not just blasting out a message to everybody in the database. The reason? It will cost time and money to send email. So marketers will have to more carefully choose which people in their database receive each message. The result will be much higher relevancy of email messages appearing in the inboxes of end users. It will be a lot like postal mail, in fact: People will still receive unsolicited offers, but the number of those offers will be very low and the subject of those offers will be highly relevant. Indiscriminate mailing will be history. In this environment end users will pay far more attention to the few emails they receive, breathing new life into the targeted email marketing industry. Of course, people will still justifiably complain if they receive email they didn't ask for, so permission-marketing practices will naturally be important, if not mandatory. All this could happen in 2004 or 2005. It will shatter the current thinking about email marketing and herald the coming of a whole new Internet where mailers act responsibly and end users pay more attention to their email. All that's necessary for this to happen is the adoption of the puzzle solution at a few major ISPs, and that's in the works right now. Make no mistake: Permission-based email marketing has a very bright future, and spammers' days are numbered. About the Author Mike Adams is the president and CEO of Arial Software, a provider of email marketing software for personalized and relevant customer communications. He founded Arial Software in 1993. Adams is an outspoken opponent of spam and a strong advocate of permission marketing, believing that customer trust is a prerequisite for constructive company/customer relations. Contact him at
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